Xenophanes is proof that even as he reins himself in a bit, Rodriguez-Lopez cannot help but to push the envelope; this time it's as a rock & roll songwriter who knows too much to keep it simple, yet understands the instinct to draw the listener in, time and again, with layers of subtlety, powerful emotions, sleight-of-hand aural magic, and sheer power, as well as sophistication. .
I am probably the only Pitchfork staffer who unabashedly loves the Mars Volta in all their dumb-assed grandiosity and shameless sprawl. I will suffer through their most meandering fusion-pastiche jams if it means reaching one of their Wagner-by-way-of-Dark Magus climaxes. But even I have to admit there are times where I wish Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-López still had a couple of meat-and-potatoes punk-types around to act as foils.
To give Xenophanes praise is to do disservice to what, up to this point, has been an unfuckwithable solo career on the part of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The problem with ’Phanes is that, for the first time, he seems to be tinkering with making a Mars Volta album on his own; for a solo artist obsessed album-in and album-out with delivering a product alien to the mothership, this move represents a regression, a willingness to tread ground he’s covered, almost note-for-note. For the first time, to my knowledge, he sings over the course of a full-length record, too.
To call Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s musical output prolific – both as a solo artist and as a founding member of bands like At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta – might very well be an understatement; few if any guitarists can lay claim to having made appearances on more than two dozen recording projects in the past ten years, much less those with the astounding technical ability of Rodriguez Lopez. To some, the Puerto Rico native’s highly cerebral blend of avant-garde prog-rock and improvised psychedelia is nothing short of genius. To others, Lopez’s consistent urge to commit every little bit of guitar skronk to tape and release it on an album – five separate records planned for 2009 alone – smacks of self-indulgence.